Hillside—a beautiful community in Anywhere, USA—may look like a postcard from the frontlines of the American Dream, but teenage Dean (Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell) knows better.
When Troy, Dean’s best friend and the town’s leading drug dealer, hangs himself in his bedroom his death throws the community’s carefully maintained psychotherapeutic balance into disarray. At school, in an effort to get their hands on Troy’s stash, Dean’s classmates Billy (Justin Chatwin), Crystal (Camilla Belle), and Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) plot a kidnapping scheme: they’ll abduct Dean’s younger brother, Charlie (Rory Culkin), and hold him for ransom in exchange for Dean retrieving Troy’s pills.
Only, the hapless gang kidnaps the wrong boy, snatching Charlie Bratley (Thomas Curtis) instead. Son of divorced parents—police officer Lou Bratley (John Heard), and interior decorator Terri (Rita Wilson)—Charlie’s disappearance goes unnoticed by his mother, who is too consumed with the planning of her elaborate second wedding to town mayor Michael Ebbs (Ralph Fiennes), to realize her son has gone missing.
As the teens play out their botched kidnapping, Troy’s devastated mother (Glenn Close) plans a memorial service, and Terri and Michael prepare for their wedding, we realize that the kids and adults of Hillside live entirely separately lives—like two opposing camps. All they share is an easy-fix culture that holds out the promise of panaceas they believe will make them happy—be it do-it-yourself mental healthcare, vitamin supplement shakes, an Ivy League acceptance, the perfect body, a fairy tale wedding, self-help books, or New Age mysticism. It is up to our affectless antihero Dean to shrug off his cloak of psychic invisibility and decide both whether and how to negotiate these crooked worlds…